Queen's Bench Division? No, Defensive Architecture
NOTE: I've updated the comment below to add material
on an article and a radio interview by Alex Andreou; and
a podcast with Setha Low. (February and March 2015)
Above: Benches outside the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand London WC2
Portland stone clad benches where you can sit. But probably not sleep because of the metal dividers.
They are part of the "security measures around the perimeter of the Royal Courts of Justice". The phrase comes from the report by Westminster City Council on 15 October 2012, which approved this and other measures.
"The City’s Barbed Cruelty"
But "Defensive Architecture" isn't only about protecting the public courts.
Alex Andreou wrote a powerful and thoughtful article about the issue, which deserves to be read carefully. Its title is: "The Anti-homeless spikes: Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty." The Guardian: 18 February 2015. Here's the link to read the article online or download it.
As you might expect from the title, Alex Andreou makes a strong plea against the practice of "designing against" homeless people and its deliberate unkindness.
"... from ubiquitous protrusions on window ledges to bus-shelter seats that pivot forward, from water sprinklers and loud muzak to hard tubular rests, from metal park benches with solid dividers to forests of pointed cement bollards under bridges, urban spaces are aggressively rejecting soft, human bodies."
But, he says, it's not simply against homeless people. Because we are all damaged by this.
"When we make it impossible for the dispossessed to rest their weary bodies at a bus shelter, we also make it impossible for the elderly, for the infirm, for the pregnant woman who has had a dizzy spell. By making the city less accepting of the human frame, we make it less welcoming to all humans. By making our environment more hostile, we become more hostile within it".
§ Alex Andreou "You’ll Never Live Like Common People". New Statesman 6 March 2013.
§ Alex Andreou refers to the historian Ocean Howell. Both were interviewed about defensive architecture in a radio programme on 17 March 2015, on CBC Radio Toronto.
Setha Low: "A Just City and a Vibrant Public Space"
Alex Andreou's Guardian article also references Setha Low of City University New York (CUNY) . Professor Low was interviewed on 21 February 2015 by KCBS Radio San Francisco. Listen to or download a 6 minute podcast here. Here's the final minute.
KCBS interviewer : Are there also some other unintended consequences? For example, benches provided for somebody who's elderly. And maybe really just needs to sit down because they're tired?
Setha Low : I should be very clear. This kind of defensive architecture is anti-human. It's not just anti-homeless. It's anti-everyone; it's anti-elderly; anti-children.
It's really not thinking about trying to build a just city and a vibrant public space.
And that the increasing use of architecture - it was very popular in the seventies - and then it went away. And now it's coming back again.
It has to do with the cleaning-up and the, sort of, sanitising of our public spaces. And their increasing privatisation. And decisions being made of who should be in those public spaces.
These ordinances and changing in rules doesn't just keep away people who are homeless and have no place to go. But also does not provide for youth of colour. And doesn't provide for elderly. Doesn't provide for anyone with disabilities. It has wide ranging impact on the vitality of our public space today.
And doesn't bode well for the future."
Oranges and Lemons
The building on the left of my photo is the Christopher Wren church of St Clement Danes. Walking past I was disappointed not hear the bells chime the tune of the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons ". Though this is not the only St Clements which claims to be the church mentioned.